New Wear OS: Will Samsung, Google and Fitbit finally get it off the ground?
May 25, 2021
Image from Pexel by Donald Tong
Google's Wear OS has a troubled history. When it first launched more than 7 years ago, there was plenty of excitement. A new category of consumer electronics usually does that. Given the success of Google's Android platform, people were excited to see what a watch-focused OS would bring.
Google struggled to communicate the vision for Wear OS. Was it the future of smartphones where people navigate the digital world via voice? Was it a device primarily focused on health? Or was it an optional device that served as a companion to your phone? While Apple settled on health, Google seems to be looking towards something more ambitious. Ultimately they never committed towards a singular vision.
What resulted was years of neglect. While third-party watchmakers continue to create Wear OS devices, most major smartphone companies abandoned the OS. Samsung went on to use their Tizen OS. Huawei and OnePlus also used a proprietary operating system.
Samsung, Google, and Fitbit
Samsung, Google, and Fitbit working together to overhaul Wear OS is welcomed news. Improvements from Samsung's Tizen OS making their way to Wear OS will make Wear OS watches a much better value. The 30% increase in application performance and load times will substantially improve the experience. 2 days of battery life will be an improvement for people who use the fitness features on the watch. Fitbit's knowledge of the fitness space will greatly enhance the experience as well.
But at the end of the day, Google has not answered the fundamental question of "Why Wear OS exists?". Without addressing this question, it will be hard for smartwatches to gain mass appeal.
An idea of what Wear OS should be
If the Google Pixel is marketed as the "Helpful Pixel phone by Google", Wear OS should be the "Helpful Watch". I believe that a watch should be mostly silent and only notify users when there is something urgent. I don't need another device competing for my attention or creating more distractions. What I want is a device that will be mindful of when to take me out of focus. The watch would ideally help me build better habits rather than make me reliant. It should be an assistant when I need it but quiet when I don't.
Although the collaboration between three major in the wearable space is exciting, I am unconvinced that it will make substantial improvements to Wear OS's reputation. Google needs to articulate its product vision and why Wear OS exists to make meaningful improvements. Only then will Google begin to win back developers to create more applications for Wear OS.